Saturday, August 13, 2011

Don't Mess With Texas...

Ok ok...I did have a several week period where I was too busy to write here on the blog (namely during production week for Sound of Music, the trip to Universal right afterward, and then a visit to my sister's place in Nashville right after that) but the last two weeks I've had no excuse to get back into the writing game.  To be honest, I just forgot about the blog because there was so much going on.  But don't worry friends, I am back and here to bring you another slice of madness courtesy of my every so eclectic and bizarre tastes.  Tonight I'll be bringing you a taste of terror from the 1970s that is regarded as one of the granddaddies of the still-vital slasher craze.  At a time when the youth of America were living free while conservative elders looked on disapprovingly and doling out restrictions and punishments to these crazed teens, one director decided to use the traditional American family as the base for a tale of terror.  What began then was a franchise of notorious reputation and a title that was many times more sensational than the original work.  So lets go back in time to 1974 and take in the case files of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

It is a hot and sticky August day when Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother Franklin travel across the back roads of Texas to visit their grandfather's grave.  It turns out that several of the local cemeteries have been robbed with graves dug up and corpses either posed in sickening sculptures atop the graves or missing parts entirely and Sally and Franklin want to be sure their grandfather hasn't been touched.  Following that, Sally and Franklin convince their friends Pam, Jerry, and Kirk (who are along for the ride) to come with them to visit their grandparents old house.  Along the way they pick up a strange hitchhiker who confesses to having worked at the local meat packing plant before attacking Franklin with a knife.  As if this weren't enough, the kids find themselves running out of gas and with no filling station nearby.  When two of them investigate a gasoline motor sound they find a cute little white house in the middle of nowhere...however on the inside of the house they find a much more sinister aesthetic on display.  Chicken bones hang from the ceiling, furniture and lamps are constructed from in human skin and bones, meat hooks hang next to large man-sized freezers in the kitchen, and a large man in an apron and a mask made from human skin is lurking with a hammer and a chainsaw.  One by one this...Leatherface...kills the teens until only one, Sally, is left.  She then must survive the longest night of her life as she runs from Leatherface and his demented family...and there are still more surprises to come.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was meant to be a shocker and it sounds like one with a title like that...it was such a nasty title that many critics reviewed the film without even actually watching it.  Its rather comical to read some of them as they decry the amount of gore and violence in the film...when in fact there is very little blood or offal in the film.  Yes, people are hung from meat hooks and one scene features murder by chainsaw, but otherwise the film is more frightening based on what is felt in the atmosphere and what is implied by what is shown.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the family that is preying on these youths are practicing cannibals who have prayed on the passers by for years...but they never once put a piece of human flesh in their mouths.  It is also implied that the chainsaw is the preferred weapon of choice for Leatherface, even though he only uses it to kill once.  What is more unsettling than the non-gore of the film is the fact that the conservative family is actually trying to kill and swallow up the young and beautiful free spirits of the new generation.  Family values that once stood for good in the 1950s now are twisted and perverted to encourage murder.  Others have commented on how the gritty look of the film makes it feel like a documentary (indeed the promotional materials and the opening prologue proudly proclaim that the story is true) though I don't agree.  A documentary never plays like a linear story with no comments from talking heads or commentators and so its quite clear that the filmmakers are telling a story rather then documenting truth.  However, the gritty feel does intensify the sense of dread and nausea that the viewer feels due to the fact that its simply harder to watch.  When you watch the film you feel like you're there in the heat and dirt and grime, and that is what makes horror effective.  The franchise hasn't lost steam yet and yet another filmmaker is dipping into the well for another go at the story...which shows just how well this little shocker still manages to scare us.

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